Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Giving Glen Hanlon a(nother) Chance

It was another Capitals loss that another local embattled coach might describe as “hard-fought.” The return of injured key pieces provided sparks, but poor decisions and lackadaisical ways early on dug a hole far too deep for the team to properly emerge in a Wizards-like manner from. One might, if they were to stretch the metaphoric meaning of a single game to epic proportions, see this game a microcosm of the early season woes. It began with the quick start (Backstrom and Ovechkin flurries to the net, extended powerplay pressure equivalent to the 3 wins 0 losses start), followed by an ugly follow-up (ugly first goal, ugly next few games in New York), followed by momentum snagging sparks (B.Laich’s shorty = victory in Ottawa), followed by despair (subsequent 3 goals = subsequent 5 games). If that is the case, there could actually be some positives to draw from, with that fantastic flurry in the third, where that elusive third goal was scored, and Semin and Clark made their presence felt on the score sheet, outside of the trainer’s room. Sustaining that big mo and building on that strong third period starts with the other embattled head coach, one who in his post game press conference said, “It’s easy to look at the negatives but you can’t turn back, and we’ll keep looking for something to build on.” These are words that get fellow DC Optimists a bit misty, and it has renewed a sense of trust in still-coach Glen Hanlon, barely nudging us off of the fence on his recent tenure.

Hanlon continues to face the wrath of a rightfully hostile crowd, and his unique mixups of the Capitals lines often forgo burgeoning chemistry in lieu of that elusive offensive spark. This has lead to long lapses in cohesion, and has resulted in both dagger-ing odd-man rushes and a stern lack of offense at times. So for this reason, should we heap further blame onto the coach in the form of poorly coordinated chants of “Fire Hanlon” as many of our surrounding ticket-buyers have? Said Olie (whose post-game pre-interview death-stare last night was something that could have caused sudden unwanted bowel movements in this blogger), “I'm sick of being asked about coaching changes. That's the furthest thing that needs to happen here. How many shocks do you need? I don't know.” We agree. Why, if Hanlon’s line juggling was the overall issue with this team, why would more lineup shuffling, this time in the coaching ranks, make things any better? Bottom line is, Hanlon continues to shuffle lines in order to discover which lines will finally find that cohesion, offensive spark, etc.

Going into this season, the Caps had several new key offensive players to work into their lineup, including three new centermen (Nylander, Kozlov, and Backstrom) who they figured to work major minutes. The season began with Kozlov and Ovechkin working together on the top line with Fleischmann, and Nylander schooling the young Backstrom on the NHL ways on a second line with Semin being the potential benefactor. Those ambitions were quelled quickly as Semin’s ankle problems, and Clark’s ear problems begat a scramble to find worthy lineup replacements. Kozlov (who I henceforth will refer to as “the enigma”) in particular has been shifted from center to wing to etc, creating a bevy of chances for someone to just plain finish. Why can’t that someone be Ovechkin again, someone who had described their elusive chemistry early on?

Hanlon realized that in the third period of last night’s game, returning Kozlov to center with Ovechkin, and reuniting Nylander with Semin. The results, two goals and the knowledge that these line combinations, or at least these center-wing pairings, ought to stick. “I thought Kozy in the middle did a good job, you’ve got three centerman that can create some offense and that’s a positive.” (There’s that word again).

So now that we have some sort of a semblance of potentially potent lineup combinations (Tarik’s blog notes the practice combos of Ovie-Kozlov-Clark and Semin-Nylander-Fleischmann in practice “skating hard”), and we have the return of injured hockey gods, and potential superstars (Hanlon on Semin: “He’ll likely score 40 this year no matter how many games he plays.”), maybe we can give coach Hanlon another chance. If this experiment works, a la Eddie Jordan’s Blatche-Brendan-big time lineups, it will cool his seat big time. And we will look to this game not as the back-breaking earth-shattering evidence of ineptitude, but as a sign of a turnaround. Why, Hanlon is almost clairvoyant with his next assessment: “It was almost a tale of two different teams, the team that started the game and the team that ended the game.” Here’s to hoping team third period emerges this time.

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